There’s a new most-expensive car in the world. A 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR, known as the Uhlenhaut Coupé, recently changed hands for a staggering 135 million Euros, or about $184 million Canadian.
The record-shattering car, nicknamed for designer Rudolf Uhlenhaut, was sold to a private collector by auction house RM Sotheby’s in 5 at the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart, Germany. The buyer was not disclosed.
A showcase of mid-1950s technology and style, the 300 SLR had a top speed of 290 kilometres per hour, and the distinctive gullwing doors that would become an icon of Mercedes design from that era. The 300 SLR was one of only two prototypes ever made and had been owned by Mercedes-Benz since new. The second prototype remains in the automaker’s collection.
Mercedes-Benz said proceeds from the sale would go toward establishing The Mercedes-Benz Fund, a global scholarship initiative “to encourage a new generation to follow in Rudolf Uhlenhaut’s innovative footsteps and develop amazing new technologies, particularly those that support the critical goal of decarbonization and resource preservation.”
Given the rarity of the car and its historic provenance, the fact it became the most expensive collector car ever sold was not especially surprising. What was surprising is that the sale price was more than double the previous record of about $90 million for a 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO, which had been the gold standard for the high-end vintage-car market.
Collector-car valuation and insurance company Hagerty suggested that the money brought by the sale of the 300 SLR could lift other collectibles.
“This sale could push values of other apex cars like the Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic over the nine-figure mark,” said the company’s Hagerty Insider newsletter. “This most recent sale emphasizes how much the collector car market has matured over the past 10 years, and that the best examples of these cars now rival the prices of some of the best pieces of art from the 20th century.”
While the record-shattering sale made global headlines, it was far from the only indicator that the collector-car market is enjoying explosive growth as the world begins to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Online car-auction company Bring a Trailer had record gross sales of $828 million (U.S.) in 2021, more than double its 2020 total of $398 million, according to the New York Times.
Then there was Arizona Auction Week, the annual gathering of enthusiasts from around the world who congregate in the Phoenix area each January to buy cars at a handful of mostly high-end auctions. This year’s take was $266.7 million (U.S.), well over Hagerty’s forecast of $211 million.
What’s particularly noteworthy about the total is that it represents a 22 per cent increase over pre-COVID-19 numbers from 2020, despite the auction companies having one-third fewer cars to sell this year.
The two years lost to COVID-19 could be fueling the boom, and other factors come into play as well. Global supply chain issues are driving up the cost of parts for restoring classic vehicles. And with automakers moving swiftly towards electrification, EV powerplant swaps into vintage cars already are a thing.
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